How to Create a Support Team, According to an Expert

Written by Caroline Shannon

December 20, 2022

Here are a few tips to help you build an infertility support team that works for you.

Infertility is anything but an easy road to travel. Between the inevitable heartbreak, endless questions from people with good (but often misguided) intentions, and the possibility of exploring third-party reproduction, it's a journey that certainly requires guidance from a solid support team.

And because of that, we sat down with Nora Spielman, a New-York based licensed therapist who specializes in fertility, to chat about some tips for navigating infertility and the inevitable challenges that come with it. Keep reading to learn why prioritizing your needs isn't "selfish," and why saying what you need is A-OK.

Don’t immediately jump to the reframe.

It’s human to want to sift through feelings—and do it quickly. But reframing isn’t helpful until you’ve first validated them.

"You have to give yourself permission to feel your feelings, or they're just there waiting to rear their ugly head,” Spielman says. “And it's not as effective to start reframing until you actually allow yourself to process your emotions.”

Stop calling it selfish. 

Period. It’s never selfish to say “no” to plans or not pick up the phone if you need time to yourself.

“We're taught that certain things are selfish, and we're taught that we're supposed to take care of others before ourselves,” Spielman says. “But you need to really check in on what's working for you and not judge yourself if something feels like it's not working for you.”

Spielman adds: “I don't like when my clients use the word selfish, because I think in this context it often means putting their needs first. And that is not only OK but encouraged.”

Related: What's It Like to Be a Surrogate?

Social media—take it or leave it.

Sometimes social media feels like a community; other times, everyone’s highlight reels make you feel like sh*t. Scroll when the mood strikes, Spielman says. 

“I ask clients [about social media]: What are you looking to get out of it?” she notes. “Sometimes it's professional reasons, and sometimes they need to for their kid or a group. If that’s the case and social media is starting to feel like too much, you just use it for whatever the thing is that you deem absolutely necessary.”

Spielman adds: “And if it feels like you need a break or hiatus, take that.”

Just because it works one day doesn’t mean it will the next.

Yesterday it might have been a candlelit bath; today, you might need a girls’ night. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for navigating hardship.

“Let's say once upon a time, it felt great to go to a party,” Spielman says. “But you go, and you end up feeling terrible, and people say things that are a kick to the gut or dagger to the heart.” 

This is your cue to check in with yourself. And don’t make it about what you “should” be doing, Spielman says. “Don’t just gloss over it or tell yourself you’re ‘supposed to’ be doing something. Stop ‘should-ing’ on yourself. There is no rulebook for what you should be doing during a time in life when you’re struggling.” 

The takeaway: It’s OK to change your mind about what works for you at any given moment

Don’t hesitate to say what you need. 

It’s human to want your people to be mind readers—but they aren’t. Tell your support team what you need, so they have some material to work with. “This is a ‘help me help you’ thing,” Spielman notes.

In her practice, Spielman says grief needs can vary widely, which is why expressing what does and doesn’t work for you could be the key to finding the support you need.

“Sometimes a client says, ‘It's really frustrating—my friend isn't checking in and asking me how I'm doing,’” she says. “And then I have another client say, ‘Oh my God, my friend keeps checking and asking how I am. How does she think I'm doing? I'm doing terrible.’”

Related: Tips for Keeping Your Relationship Strong & Healthy During Surrogacy

If you have the space to tell a friend or family member what you need, don’t be afraid to do so. (Understandably, even this can sometimes feel like too much.) And if you’re on the receiving end of this feedback, try to consider yourself lucky that you are a support team member who has been deemed important enough to be kept in the loop on your friend’s needs. 

“Work through your defensiveness and instead say something like, ‘I'm really sorry. Thank you for letting me know that wasn't helpful,” Spielman says. “Then add: ‘Please feel free to let me know at any point in time what is more helpful. I'm learning with you, and I want to be here for you however I can.’”

The bottom line:

Infertility and possibly navigating a road to third-party reproduction is challenging—to say the least. Don't be afraid to take time for yourself as needed, and be sure to surround yourself with the people who allow you to do so.

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